Barring seeing the orangutans and proboscis monkeys our plans on what to do in Borneo were pretty non existent (as usual) so a bit of internet research identified that there was the opportunity to do a cycling tour.
As keen cyclists in the UK we have missed our iron horses over the last 3 months, and traveling by bicycle is a great pace to see the world. We identified a company that had great Trip Advisor reviews, called Bike Borneo, and although they are a mountain bike company they were more than willing to work out a more road based trip for us.
The plan was to spend 3 days heading north form Kota Kinabalu and get as close to Kudat (or more specifically the Tip of Borneo) as we could. Sadly due to the limitations of packing for a 6 month trip around the world, we would be doing this without the aid of padded shorts and padded gloves….gulp.
We are met by our support team for the trip, Dan and Christian (mad keen cyclists themselves) and get our mountain bikes fitted (only 3 months old as the company had recently updated their fleet) before heading off in the early morning to beat the traffic out of the city.
The initial tour suggested by the company had very short distances planned for each day, in the 10-15km a day bracket, which seemed far too short so I pushed them to plan a longer route. I think that I should have researched the weather a little more before I did. Given that we are cycling in tropical rainforest near the equator it perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that we experienced conditions that were hot, hot, hot. And humid. Apparently it is supposed to be monsoon season but it is unseasonably dry at the moment, and we are astonished to hear that during a recent monsoon season Malaysia recorded its lowest ever temperature of 17 degrees!
Over the course of the 3 days we experience searing heat in excess of 40 degrees and humidity in the 90s. Without this the distance (around 150km across the three days) and terrain (that would be described as undulating with the occasional hill) would not have been challenging even given the fact we have not been on a bike since October.
That said early starts to reduce the amount of cycling during “mad dogs and englishmen” time plus amazing support with cold drinks, ice and snacks available at anytime made it challenging and not impossible. And the route, scenery and stop offs along the way made it an unforgettable experience.
Along the way we saw the KK University campus (which takes up 999 hectares and has a private beach), wonderful green and lush scenery, quiet local villages inhabited by the tribes people of Sabah, a luxury 5 star resort (home to the nursery part of the Sepilok Orangutan programme – cue another 500 photos of the baby versions that look a lot like surprised coconuts), and some of the most deserted and beautiful beaches we have ever seen.
One of the more surprising aspects of the journey is the reaction of the local people to cyclists. It is almost universal happiness! People shout hello, beep car horns, wave enthusiastically as we go by, and according to Christian and Dan its the same with all cyclists across Sabah. It makes the journey even more special and it feels a privilege to experience it at first hand.
Chatting to the guys about the cost of cycling in Malaysia, it perhaps explain this reaction. I think that cyclists must be a rare sight (the one and only cycle lane in the province is still under construction) due to the cost. A fairly standard entry bicycle costs around 3,000RM, about £600. That is not cheap, but almost inaccessible when you consider the average wage in the area is 700RM per month.
In fact one of the joys of the trip was spending time with the two guys who have lived in the Sabah area all their lives, we learnt so much about the culture and history of the area whilst on the bikes, that it added a wonderful level of colour to an already memorable few days.